High School Basketball

Outgoing commissioner enjoying her last Sweet Sixteen

When Brigid DeVries was growing up in Lexington, her father, Dr. Stuart DeVries, had a radio in his dentist office and in March he always had it tuned to the Sweet Sixteen so he could listen to the games while he worked on patients.

"At the time, I wondered if my dad drilled a hole in somebody's cheek listening to the state tournament the year (1976) Edmonson County won," she said with a laugh.

"I remember how special that was."

Thirty-four years later, DeVries, 60, knows more than ever how special the state tournament is. She's in her final few months as commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, and is overseeing the PNC/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena for the last time.

DeVries has been with the KHSAA since 1979, and has headed the organization the last eight years.

She thinks the state tournament will keep its format and not split into classes.

"It's a very, very unique thing," she said. "In Kentucky, we have the Kentucky Derby and the Sweet Sixteen. I know it has its naysayers, but this format is what makes it successful."

The tournament used to alternate between Rupp Arena and Freedom Hall in Louisville, but it's been in Lexington the last 15 years. The current contract keeps it in Rupp through 2014.

With Louisville building a new downtown arena, does DeVries expect the state's largest city to bid on the Sweet Sixteen again?

"That remains to be seen," she said. "We've been very successful here (in Lexington), but I can't predict what will happen."

It might be risky to move an event that generates more than $1 million, and along with the girls' Sweet Sixteen, accounts for almost 60 percent of KHSAA revenue.

DeVries the basketball fan was asked to list the most memorable state tournament games she's witnessed:

She named Clay County's win over Ballard in the 1987 finals, and Ballard trumping Clay County the next year despite Richie Farmer's 51 points; Paul Andrews' half-court shot that lifted Laurel County over North Hardin in the 1982 title game; Henry Clay's triple-overtime victory over Carlisle County in the 1983 championship, and Scott County's heart-pounding win over Lexington Catholic in the 1998 semifinals.

DeVries is retiring from the KHSAA on July 9, but that doesn't mean her love affair with the Sweet Sixteen is over.

"I'll be back as a spectator," she said. "Absolutely."